Going round in circles
31.03.2016 - I am too depressed to write about the UK playing silly buggers with the EU and the negative impact on science, so let's look at something positive for Europe instead - the development of circular economy opportunities for biotechnology.
Let's start by explaining what the circular economy is, before you say 'eh?' and read something else. Its aim is to ensure that the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised.
It essentially looks at production, consumption and waste as a bigger picture, something the EU is genuinely able to do, with the aim to benefit citizens and the ecosystem of Europe in the long term. We can expect a combined set of actions that include regulation and economic development incentives and this is genuinely an opportunity for biotechnology to find new applications and create global economic opportunities. Because Europe follows a long term approach, it might be faster than many other regions in the world, which are more reactive than proactive, in creating scientific and business capabilities.
European biotechnology is already working towards economic return from circular economy actions, look at the Bio-Based Industries (BBI) Joint Undertaking, a public private partnership leveraging €2.7 billion of private investment and €975 million EU funds to target sustainable biomass, biorefineries and market development. This matches the principles of the circular economy action plan published at the end of 2015 which has the intention to change production processes, consumption, waste management and turning waste into a resource - all areas where biotechnology can work its magic.
Most areas of biotechnology can contribute; food production, energy, environmental monitoring, industrial processes etc etc, there's room for innovation and economic return across the board. A quick look at the BBI workplan for 2016 highlights the commercial opportunities for biotech perfectly, with topics including extraction of organic material from waste water for feedstock, novel fermentation of bio-compounds, advanced biomaterials for packaging, recovering and re-using enzymes in industrial processes ... the list goes on, read it yourself you lazy beggars.
The circular economy makes sense for Europe – the world is demonstrating on a daily basis how economies and society suffer when the environment is degraded. There will certainly be plenty of moaning about Brussels stopping you throwing your fridge in the pond or making you dry your hair with a straight banana. However, if we take the 20-year, "isn't the water clean", view rather than the 5-minute, "it's my human right to leave the fridge door open", view - we will hopefully find that Europe is still habitable and we have thriving industries that will help make that happen.